Football fans are notoriously fickle, and team Managers are often the first to feel the brunt of disenchantment which can follow a defeat or two, let alone three! Even mere dissatisfaction with performance and tactical outlook can send rumblings of discontent up the stairs to the boardroom causing Directors to sidestep responsibility and look for scapegoats. Usually the prime suspects lurk nervously in offices with a ‘Manager’ sign on the door.
When Roberto Mancini arrived at what was then referred to as Eastlands at the back end of 2009 there were already murmerings of discontent. Mark Hughes, his predecessor had, according to some been treated unfairly. Although the ex-United Centre Forward had not set City alight his team had been holding its own in what many regard as the toughest League in the world. Too many draws, people pondered. For me it was Hughes’s old association with Manchester United which caused doubts that here was a man for all seasons, who could lead us out of the football wilderness. If he had succeeded in that, then I suspect his eye might always have been on the impending vacancy across the City to the west.
So, as we are now almost two years along the road of City’s transition from everybody’s second favourite team (except of course Manchester United fans) to the richest , lavish , galactico laden assembly of football superstars in Northern Europe how do we City loyalists view Mancini , and why ? How does the football world judge him, and more importantly why has he not failed, in the way so many seemed to want him to fail. Make no mistake Pundits and journalists were queuing up to say ’you can buy players but you can’t build a team’
It appears, against the odds and against those who considered him unfit for purpose Roberto Mancini has done just that.
From day one he endeared himself to the match going faithful, and armchair followers alike by identifying with us and wearing the colours. Resurrected from days of yore the simple sky blue and white knotted neatly around his neck was testimony to his commitment, or so it seemed. Standing on touchlines from Molyneux to Scunthorpe lending his innate style and chic Mancini began to emerge as the very face of Manchester City. The embodiment of a new force at the top table, ready to clamber aboard the rollercoaster ride to success, enjoyed by so few at the peak of football’s pyramid.
His early press conferences - a little laboured because of limited English were sometimes hard to endure and often appeared pointless, so narrow was their remit.. ‘in deece moment’ & ‘eece important’ became familiar phrases as the man gamely tried to make himself understood and slowly, as the months went by we all learned a little more.
He worked hard on his English - the film ‘Blue Moon Rising’ shows him attending one-to-one classes and the intervening period has produced not quite fluency, but a huge improvement and his communication is now more than adequate. As he stands hands in pockets, looking ever so slightly dishevelled after a game answering the usual questions. Nodding, sometimes gazing into the middle distance as he absorbs the meaning of the words and formulates his responses. He has excuses of course when things go wrong - tiredness is his favourite…he has a knack of looking a little weary on demand himself dependant upon the result.
Mancini has - if we read between the lines - been allowed to Manage the team in the truest sense of the word. Of course he has help in this from his trusted Lieutenants . As the long months of last season rolled slowly by it became clear that his team selections were almost always a matter choosing horses for courses. Depending on the opposition, and with the players available back then he would approach each game quite differently.
Fulham, and West Ham away for instance produced fine attacking displays which pulverised the home sides. Yet a few months later attracted huge amounts of criticism for an ultra negative display at Arsenal. A realistic approach that screamed ‘a point equals victory’ It was not pretty, and the neutral would have been wanting the home side to convert one of the endless chances they failed to put away. Mancini rolled the punches and the criticism, defended when he needed to and attacked when he could.
His increasing confidence and assuredness saw City survive a few mid-season hiccups, finish strongly to claim third place and end the clubs long barren streak of failure with a climactic F.A. Cup victory over Stoke. This alone places him in the City hall of fame alongside legendary figures those under 45 years of age will barely remember. The Mercer-Allison heyday , glorious though it was, and a period I witnessed first hand has for too long represented the zenith of City’s post-war achievements. No we have a new base to build upon. A pot in the cupboard and more to come, if Mancini gets his way. With him at the helm, the future looks bright.
He seems to have asserted himself. His stock is high at the club. The departure of Garry Cooke and the willingness of the clubs owner to back Mancini’s judgement to the tune of well over a hundred million pounds over the summer surely proves it. The players he clearly could not relate to , or get on with are slowly being moved on. Big names like Bellamy and Adebayor who clearly had issues with Roberto have clearly been left in no doubt just who is the boss. There is no tail wagging the dog at City. Mancini’s management style is said to be slightly aloof, detached even, and perhaps that can only be a good thing. His expert eye has led to playmakers like David Silva - surely the most crafted and expressive player in the country right now - and Samir Nasri combining to create so many options for the massive , blistering firepower of Aguero , Dzeko, and the rest.
The Carlos Tevez situation is another example of Mancini’s authority. The destruction of Tottenham at White Hart Lane might have tempted many to allow Tevez take the field for a late twenty minute cameo - no joy there Carlos. It’s plain from the Managers actions that you are in the doghouse old Son. You will need to work hard and toe the line if you are to return to prominence in a City shirt. We all hope Tevez can do that and get back into the action at the highest level, but given the options available to Mancini there can be no guarantees.
Against Everton at the weekend for instance, it was Mario Ballotelli - impressive in the first half against Birmingham City a few days earlier - who got the call when needed. Injecting unpredictability into the front line as Everton strove to stifle ‘Mad ’Mario (love him or hate him, you just cannot ignore him) capitalised on some spade work by Aguero to slot the ball home courtesy of a slight deflection which foxed Tim Howard. The way the big Italian waved away his team-mates and headed straight for ‘the Boss’ to embrace him in appreciation shows there is a bond between the two. Clearly not always aloof then, surely?
Of course its was barely mentioned by the media. As was the fact that Roberto’s other substitute James Milner, benefiting from a sublime pass by David Silva scored the second. If both of a certain beknighted Mr.Ferguson’s substitutes had put Everton to the sword , so late on it would be heralded as a tactical masterstroke.
“MANCINI - woo--o--ooa--oh he came from Italy - to manage Man City” - the little song rang louder than ever around the Stadium sang by the many who appreciate the man and the job he is doing. ‘Bobby Manc’ he is affectionately known as around ‘The Etihad’ usually raises an arm in acknowledgement. Time will tell but his appointment may turn out to be the shrewdest of all the investments Sheik Mansour has ploughed into the club. He has a suave, urbanity about him does Mancini. A twinkle in his eye and a disarming manner. How often do you hear him credit other teams? Constantly, it is one of his endearing qualities.He simply never fails to give prominence to the strengths of the days opponents, who ever they may be. If City are playing teams from lower leagues, as in last season’s cup -ties he stresses the importance of avoiding complacency, and having respect for all. In victory he is gracious. In defeat, resigned and usually uncomplaining. He looks within for reasons, not without .
A charming man who seldom, if ever criticises officials. Targeted and employed by highly educated and serious men to guide this project along he brings welcome charisma with him, along with his steely and objective expertise. Those around him says he works hard, putting many hours into the job and burning the midnight oil. I suspect Roberto Mancini is not a man to cross. It’s clear he does not suffer fools nor tolerate those mavericks who do not want to a part of the team ethic he has so clearly generated. You only have to look at the body language of City players like Joe Hart, Micah Richards and Vincent Kompany to see that a strong bond has developed, which was compounded by the recent tour to America where the players were together for three weeks. Those who have signed up for the trip clearly seem happy with the driver. A Driver that’s jettisoned the passengers and kept the committed, adding his own version of luxury accessories to transform what was formerly a functioning road going Routemaster into a thundering Juggernaut ready to roll around Europe. There’s only one Governor on this bus and it’s not limiting the engine, it’s unleashing the potency of Sergio Aguero et al on a quest for domination.
So , Mancini is the man. If I were emboldened enough to advise those who have put City on the World football map I’d say give him an immediate contract extension. Whatever happens this season ,whatever next year brings. For there will be upsets and reverses along the way. This is City - not the dear City of old it’s true but still the underdogs in our own town. So imperious is the Red Machine that they keep their noses ahead and that deserves credit too. The moment of peril for them (please God) will come when
Sir Fergie finally decides to call it a day. When his regime is no more and what might be a poisoned chalice has been passed. On. As I recall City’s halcyon days I also remember only too well the decline that set in at Old Trafford after Sir Matt Busby had ‘moved upstairs’ decline which culminated in a certain back-heel from a star of both camps, Denis Law. I witnessed that too and if I’m honest, I delighted in it.
The fickle fans of football whose loyalties notoriously sway in the breeze of triumph and loss will not prevail in the fortunes of City’s ‘man at the top’. Only the hard nosed acumen of the clubs benefactor will
decide what represents success. From my standpoint as a long term follower I cannot imagine anyone else standing in that technical area, or sitting in that plush, upholstered seat. Mancini has dugout a niche for himself in the pantheon of City Managers and I hope the once revolving door of change and churn has been firmly wedged wide shut!
The taste of Mancini has left most of us hungry for more. Roll on Roberto.
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